Building Better Internships: Roadmap for Successful Internships

Building Better Internships: Roadmap for Successful Internships

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
Mike Smith, President
July 08, 2014

Internships: For decades, they existed with little fanfare – as rites of passage, allowing students to test-drive their college major in a professional setting. Today, internships are front-page news, and unfortunately the conversation too often has been limited to wages and equating the internship to an entry-level job. An undergraduate intern is first and foremost a student, and an internship should be an academic experience. Missing from these conversations is the fact that, when done correctly, internships are transformative educational experiences that can help students translate their academic training into a fulfilling career.


Over the past 40 years, The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars has helped more than 50,000 undergraduate students complete an academic internship experience. We are now sharing our standards publicly through the Internship Bill of Rights and Responsibilities in an effort to encourage wider adoption of these principles and best practices. The Washington Center feels strongly that an internship should be tightly focused on intentional learning; the best way to accomplish such an experience is through an equal partnership among schools, employers and students.


Internships – when closely tied to an academic program and supported by attentive academic advisers and workplace supervisors – can shape or reshape the trajectory of students’ careers. These programs allow undergraduates to identify skills at which they excel – as well as gaps they can fill upon returning to campus--and critically analyze how their professional interests align with career opportunities.


In framing the Internship Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, we drew first upon our many years in helping students navigate successful internship experiences. We also conducted interviews with The Washington Center’s students, alumni and staff, and solicited feedback from leading higher-education experts.


The ten points we outlined are not a prescription; they are a set of best practices that promote the environment for a successful internship. These guidelines call for professional placements that align with students’ majors and career aspirations; complementary coursework, lectures and other learning opportunities to deepen students’ understanding of their fields; and counsel from academic program advisers who help students reflect strategically on their experiences as a foundation for lifelong learning.


We hope the Internship Bill of Rights and Responsibilities sparks a much-needed dialogue. We welcome feedback from all of our stakeholders, including our university partners, students and parents, and federal, corporate and nonprofit organizations that provide internship opportunities for college students. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s workforce. As members of the global economy, we all have a stake in preparing for that future. Let’s give it the attention it deserves.


To view the standards, visit the Internship Bill of Rights’ website.


To download a copy of the standards, please click here.

Experience a Day in the Life of an Intern at The Washington Center

Learn More